It's set soon after Flash #213.
Enjoy, and feedback is appreciated.
"Say goodnight to the bad guy."
"You going soon?"
James Jesse blinked and looked at the security guard. He knew that he was on this guy's side, he did; yet he still couldn't quell a faint surge of panic at seeing that Security Officer Findlay was totally blocking the office's only exit. Old habits died far too hard.
He smiled up at Findlay. Never let them know you're uncomfortable. "Give me about five minutes and I'll be out. Kinda lost track of time there."
Findlay smiled back good-naturedly. "You wouldn't be the first one. I'll set your alarms after you've gone. Just heading straight to the dorms?"
"That's it. Sleep is good." He smiled again, and nodded, and gathered up papers and picked up his terribly official looking jacket and slipped the pens into his terribly formal-looking pocket protector and he sighed ever so slightly as he walked out the door. This... this official stuff was so... not James Jesse. Or not the Trickster, he supposed, and he knew perfectly well that he wasn't supposed to be the Trickster anymore, but it hardly helped. He could bluff all he wanted, but he wasn't comfortable here.
Sometimes he didn't even feel like himself anymore.
The 'dorms', as everyone so charmingly referred to them as, were actually a set of well-kitted-out apartments in the next building over. The FBI rented them out to special agents who were living away from their own city. They all lived there now. All the reformed Rogues, with their bizarre obsessions and quaint little psychoses. Occasionally, it almost felt like home.
He looked at his watch and yawned. Almost midnight. Plenty of time to do his rounds before he got some sleep.
Len Snart sat in the corner of the room on a battered armchair, his legs propped up on an old suitcase. He was tired. Not that he'd been out robbing any banks today; none of the exciting stuff. Today he'd been talking to fences, spinning deals, making contacts, making sure the Rogues had the foundations to support the flashy antics. It was the more annoying part of the life, the bit that the others were generally not so eager to engage in. He ended up doing more than his share of the work, but he put up with it because he was the leader and that was the way it went. Worked all day, played poker with the others, told them all to crash in the safehouse tonight because they were tanked to the eyeballs. Mr Responsibility.
Still, he was tired, and he sorely wanted to be in his own apartment, or at least in one of the beds in the other rooms. Occasionally he almost dozed, but then he'd catch himself and straighten up again. Either that, or the man on the bed in the other corner would waken him with another whimper, or another stream of curse words.
Or he'd start the conversation again.
"I cahn' fooking sleep."
Len frowned and steadied his feet on the suitcase again. "Don't see you trying too hard, McCulloch. We had this talk five minutes ago."
"I bloody am trying. I just bloody can't and ye'know bloody why--"
"I fooking hate you. Ye don't know what it's like..."
Len narrowed his eyes at that. "Don't even--"
And hesitated, as light arced across the doorway. "The hell was that? Mardon?"
"It is Mardon, is what. Fooking lightning bolt bein' chucked around the place a' fooking midnight..."
Len glared at him and pulled himself out of the chair, grabbing the suitcase as he did. "Stay."
"Ye don' have to take it wit' ye..."
He gave McCulloch a nasty look. "The suit stays with me. Get some damn sleep."
He ignored the hand gesture that was waved his way. He knew it wouldn't matter; McCulloch would do as he was told. After all, Len was the leader.
James carefully slipped the key into the lock and opened the door. There was a time when he would have relished the challenge of breaking into someone else's apartment the hard way, but hey, copying the master keys worked just as well for less effort. And it was still criminal, for heaven's sake. It wasn't like he'd totally lost his touch.
He braced himself as he opened the door and was blasted by the central heating system. Yeesh. Mick had it up higher every day. His flat was beginning to resemble a sauna. Or, he reflected ruefully, a heatwave. How the hell did the guy stand it?
James wandered over to the controls and set them to a more reasonable warmth. It would do Mick some good to stop giving in to his obsessions, after all. And quite frankly, the more he watched Mick, the more he worried about those obsessions. Had Mick always had that unnerving look in his eyes when he stared into the flames? He wished he'd been paying more attention back when they'd run with the Rogues. He wished he didn't have a sick, terrible feeling inside that Mick might be hiding something very ugly indeed.
He wandered into the kitchen, extinguished the single candle that was burning down in a plate next to the oven before he tiptoed over to the bedroom and opened the door ever so quietly. Mick seemed to be sleeping well, curled up under a mountain of blankets and quilts. There was another candle on the bed stand, and he frowned before tiptoeing forward and extinguishing it with a pinch of his thumb and forefinger. Candles were dangerous in the bedroom. He couldn't have his operative burning to death in an inferno.
James frowned deeper as Mick tossed and turned under the blankets, as though he almost sensed the loss of the small, insignificant light. Could he...? No.
He backed out of the room. Any problem could wait for tomorrow. There was nothing here that could possibly be solved in one night.
The passageway was flooded with ice-cold mist. Len stalked up to Mark Mardon's door, irritated. What the hell was he doing, using the weather wand to play pinball with the climate at this time of night? Idiot must have been drunker than he'd seemed.
Len hesitated outside the door, a sudden thought striking him. Or he could be...
He frowned and pushed the door open very quietly. Mark lay on the bed, twisted in the sheets, twitching fitfully every now and again. The wand was several metres away, sitting on a crate that had been casually tossed into the corner. And it was crackling, ever so slightly, lightning twisting down its length. Len cursed under his breath and carefully walked towards it. Damn thing seemed to be more a part of Mardon every day. Now he wasn't even holding the thing and it was reacting to his nightmares, spitting off bad weather to match the bad things in his head.
He stared at it. A slim, slightly metallic looking rod. Completely smooth, none of the big flashy gadgets like the rest of the Rogues had for the Weather Wizard. Yet the damn thing was potentially more powerful than the rest of their gadgets put together. You could destroy the world with this thing if you applied it right. You could...
His hands reached forward before he even realised what was happening, and his fingers brushed the metallic cylinder...
Len jumped back and swivelled towards the bed, dropped the suitcase, his gun out. What the fuck?
Mark sat upright, but his eyes were blank and empty, still lost in violent dreams. And the weather... it swirled around him, the lightning flashing off his hair, the winds whirling around his head. He stared at Len with eyes that didn't see him at all.
Len stared. How the hell did Mardon know he'd even touched the damn thing?
Len kept his finger on the trigger. "Mark, listen to me. You're not awake. You're dreaming..."
"Mine, Clyde! If you'd listened! You should have listened!"
Len froze. Clyde. His brother. The dead brother. The one he killed because... He tightened his finger on the trigger. A medium coating of ice would hold him. Should hold him, if the weather didn't shield him, protect him...
But first try... "I'm not your brother, Mark. He's long gone. You're a Rogue now. No more sinful than the rest of us, and we ain't going to steal what you've shed blood for. It's yours."
He watched for a sign of recognition, but Mardon just stared, and there might have been tears shining in his eyes, but the wind whipped them away before he could be really sure.
Then Mark closed his eyes and fell back onto the pillow.
The weather swirled away to the faintest of breezes, and Len Snart took a deep breath and backed out of the room.
At least this room had a better climate, reflected James. Not much else in the way of creature comforts though. Frances Kane hadn't been able to bring much from her former residence, since the former residence was Central City's local loony bin and she'd left rather abruptly and without the permission of... well, anyone in that particular establishment. Still, she'd made some token efforts. There was a vase of flowers on the table and a lone picture on the windowsill in the dining room. It was one of the four of them training; he remembered that Sandra Kilgore had taken it as part of their skills tests. He didn't know how Frances had gotten a copy, but he supposed it boded well that she'd thought it important to keep a group photo. Teamwork was something they desperately needed, and something that the Rogues had in spades.
He glided through the apartment, checked that the windows were closed, unplugged the toaster, drew the curtains in the kitchen. When he tiptoed to the bedroom and opened the door slightly, he was pleased to find the room peaceful. More than once he'd had to deal with a clutter of metallic objects veering wildly around the room as Magenta tossed and turned at the mercy of a bad dream. Not tonight though, and not for the last few nights. It boded well indeed.
He jumped slightly.
Her head twisted, and bleary eyes turned towards him. "S'that you?"
"It's me." He said. "Go back to sleep, Frances."
She blinked vaguely at him. "I was having a dream," she said. "It was... nice. A nice dream."
He smiled faintly. "Well that's good, Frances. Hooray for the nice dreams."
"Yes." She smiled back, shyly. "I didn't used to have many. I'm so glad." She hesitated. "You've made sure everything's okay?"
""I've made sure everything's okay, Frances."
She stared at him in the darkness, her eyes like black orbs. "James?"
"Do the others know?"
He didn't have to ask what she meant. "No. They sleep like the... they sleep well."
He stayed by the door, sensing that the conversation hadn't ended.
"I like that you check. I don't mind."
"It makes me feel better, to know. That you've made everything secure. It doesn't make me feel so frightened that..."
"...that I'll hurt someone. That I'll do something bad, maybe in my sleep and I'll never know until I wake up and someone's..."
He took a steady breath. "I won't let that happen, Frances. You won't hurt anyone."
The shadow of her head nodded. "You make me believe it, I think."
"Go to sleep, Frances."
She laid her head back on the pillow and closed her eyes. "Okay, James."
Len heard the soft 'blipping' noises as he headed back to McCulloch's room, and he rolled his eyes. For the love of... he'd told the brat to get to bed. He veered off down another passage and stomped over to Axel Walker's room.
When he opened the door, the kid was hunched over the Xbox controls, Grand Theft Auto up on the screen and a few beers strewn on the floor. Figured.
The kid jumped when he spoke, and turned to him with a half-guilty look on his face. Len scowled at him. "Didn't I tell you to get some sleep? We've got a job tomorrow night. Don't need you still nursing a damn hangover."
Axel stared up at him stubbornly. "I'm just finishing this mission!"
"And I'm just telling you to turn the thing off and get to bed unless you want to spend the night defrosting."
The little idiot turned his back and stabbed defiantly at the controls. "I'm just..."
Okay, that was it. Len flicked out his gun and pulled the trigger. There was an electric squawk from the games system before the whole thing froze solid and went dead. Then, before Axel could even manage a horrified yelp, he reached out and tapped it.
The cracking sound the whole thing made as it shattered into thousands of pieces was really damn satisfying.
"What the fuck?"
He gestured with the gun. "Now get to bed unless you want to follow it."
Axel stared at him, outraged. "You're not my stupid parents."
Okay, that was bloody it. Len narrowed his eyes, brought the gun up and levelled it directly at the brat's forehead. "You're damn right," he said. "I ain't your parents. I'm better than them. I'm telling you what to do and I'm making sure you do it."
Finally, Axel's face had dissolved into something that looked like panic. "But I..."
"Tomorrow night we have a job, and tomorrow night we're already going to be one man down because of McCulloch. If you ain't on your game, you could bring down everyone else as well as yourself. You want to be a Rogue? Then I'm telling you only one more time. If you're a part of this team, then get to bed now."
Axel stared at him. Then he pulled himself up, and sulkily made his way to the bed in the corner of the room.
Len lowered the gun and shook his head. Idiot kids. He turned and walked out.
When he opened Piper's door, a hundred furry heads froze and turned to stare at James. He took a deep breath. That was always a bit disconcerting.
"Hey guys," he said in a hushed voice. "Just me again. Definitely not going to seriously damage your master or anything."
Some of the rats looked a little suspicious, he thought, but gradually they lost interest and wandered back to doing whatever it was that a hundred pet rats did at night in an FBI sanctioned apartment. He suspected some of the other residents had been getting a few shocks lately.
He frowned as he wandered around and checked plugs and windows. The rats were a worry, he had to admit. Still, it wasn't as though Piper was coping with reality any worse than the rest of his charges. He supposed the real reason he was worried was that he'd always rather considered Hartley as the sane one of the group, and now he talked to rats and spent his weekends playing tunes through the ducts in the FBI building that made people uncontrollably burst into tears. James had been trying to get him to quit that; it was making the late workers nervous to see the security guards walking past bawling their eyes out.
Maybe there was no such thing as a sane Rogue. Their dysfunctions seemed to make them, and his Rogues were no different than Len's in that respect.
He stopped. Damn. Had he just called the team Rogues again? Old habits really did die hard.
There was a whimpering noise in the bedroom, and he frowned harder. Again. None of the others had nightmares like Piper had nightmares. Another worry, and the FBI psychiatrists didn't seem to be able to do anything about it. But then, the psychs really didn't know Hartley like a fellow Rogue did.
He opened the bedroom door and carefully slid into the room. Piper was curled tightly into himself on the bed, and it was quiet, except for the awful choking sobs he was making.
James sighed, and wondered what the nightmare was about this time. Could be one of a thousand hideous memories that Piper didn't deserve to have. Hartley was a good guy for a Rogue, though he really didn't think that Piper himself believed it. Then again, if any of them truly believed they would good guys, they probably wouldn't have signed onto this gig. How else to show that you've reformed than to take down the guys you used to run with?
He tiptoed across the room and carefully and dexterously flicked through Piper's rather huge CD collection. So what would help tonight? The Beatles? ACDC? Gregorian Monks singing baffling eighties tunes?
When Piper sobbed again he shrugged and started to hum softly, a silly tune that his mother used to sing to him back at the circus, when he was a kid and he couldn't sleep, a lifetime ago.
It took only a few minutes before Hartley relaxed, and James left Enya spinning on the CD player just in case. The healing power of music. Another kind of obsession, he supposed.
It was one am when James finally went to get some sleep of his own.
Len sighed, dropped himself back in the uncomfortable armchair, and put the suitcase back under his feet. The clock said one, and McCulloch seemed to be dozing for now, thank god. Wouldn't last, of course. He'd seen people go cold turkey, and it was ugly. He'd wake up again with the sweats, plead for a fix, try and weasel his gadgets away from the suitcase Len had packed them into, so that he could disappear and leave a mirror duplicate in his place. All the stupid things that Len was far too smart to fall for. He'd dealt with addicts before. Was always dealing with them leading the Rogues, he supposed, but drugs were a different kind of addiction than the compulsion that drove them into the life. Drugs scattered your thinking. Being a Rogue focused it.
And McCulloch was a good Rogue before he'd gotten into the coke, and would be a good Rogue again. He wasn't Scudder, was always a bit more dangerous, more on the edge. He'd mastered Scudder's toys though, and he had his own code of honour. Bit more mercenary than Len's, and they clashed at times, but Len did acknowledge that it was there. Better than the brat at least, though Axel was still young.
"Go to sleep, Evan."
"'Ah keep wakin' up. Got the frigging shakes. 'fi jus hada..."
God, the accent got damn near impenetrable when McCulloch was stressed. "Think about something else. Keep your mind distracted."
"I don't know." He thought about it. "The future. When the Rogues win."
McCulloch managed the faintest smile. "'Sgunna happen?"
Len considered. Yeah, that'd do. "Hell yeah. Once day soon. The Flash, he's got an ego on him, but one day he'll give in. One day we'll prove it to him, that we're better than him. He'll know it."
"We'll own'im. Stick a flag up 'is ass, courtesy of the Rogues. We got a flag?"
"Hell, we can make one."
"'Is bloody lightnin' bolt. 'Wit a hand coming out of it makin a'--"
Len gave a snort of laughter. "We need to be a bit more sophisticated than that. Lightning bolt on ice."
Evan grinned. "And shattered."
"And blown away."
"And ah, go'knows. So'kinda 'splodin' bubblegum shit."
"All hail the bloody Trickster."
But McCulloch frowned, at that. "The kid's no' a patch 'n Jesse."
There was a pertinent silence, and Len sighed. "Get some sleep, Evan."
McCulloch blinked at him, and then dropped his head back onto the pillow. "Yeah well, I'll try."
The 'thankyou' was unspoken, but it was there. Len settled back in the armchair.
No one knew what they dreamed about.